The Prion Experts Investigation Committee, reporting to Japan's Food Safety Commission, has announced they will meet again in Japan on Monday, Oct. 24, to discuss the draft report on the safety of U.S. beef.
There has been widespread speculation by both the media and trade that the draft report will be finalized at this meeting, leading some to presume that U.S. beef will be able to re-enter the Japanese market before the end of 2005.
Theoretically, it is possible that U.S. beef could appear in the Japanese market before the end of 2005: however, given the steps that still need to be undertaken before trade re-commences, it is more likely imports will resume in the first quarter of 2006.
If the Prion Experts Investigation Committee agrees with the draft report, they will submit the report to the FSC for consideration. The FSC will hold their next meeting on Oct. 27, and if they agree with the draft report, they will invite public comment for the next 28 days.
President Bush is scheduled to be in Japan during the middle of November. Some had expected an announcement while he was in Japan. However, the timeline might be a little too short for that.
If the FSC receives comments, they will then need to hold additional meetings to examine these. The FSC will then report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, who will hold risk communication meetings. Following these meetings, the Japanese government will make a decision as to the resumption of trade with the United States.
Other potential issues to be resolved before trade can resume include the resumption of imports of Japanese beef into the United States, and the commencement of regular inspections by the Japanese government of U.S. plants supplying Japan.
United States could re-enter Korea by February
According to a Korean Ministry of Agriculture representative, a meeting to determine whether U.S. beef will be permitted to re-enter the Korean market may take place as early as the end of October. The meeting was originally scheduled for June of this year. However, the discovery of an additional case of BSE in the United States in June saw the meeting postponed indefinitely while the Korean government waited for information on the affected animals from the US. government. It is expected that during the meeting a decision will also be made as to whether to re-allow imports of Canadian beef, banned in May 2003.
However, the Korean government official stressed that, even in the event of a positive decision regarding the re-entry of U.S. beef, no beef would be expected to enter the Korean market before February next year.
Should an in-principle agreement be reached to reopen the market to U.S. beef imports, high level government negotiations between the U.S. and Korea to determine conditions of re-entry will be required. An examination of American meat processing facilities will also be carried out before U.S. beef is permitted to enter the Korean market.
These additional steps are expected to take at least three to four months. This means that no U.S. or Canadian beef is likely to reach the Korean market until after Lunar New Year (late January), which is one of Korea's highest beef consumption periods.